Update: Americans, Britons, Dutch killed in church Easter bombings

In an update, officials said no fewer than 35 foreigners, including Americans, Britons and Dutch, died when a string of coordinated bombings hit high-end hotels and churches in and around the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo on Sunday during Easter services.

Police have revised the death toll upwards, from 137 to 156.

The coordinated blasts took place at 8:45 a.m. local time.

Foreigners were among the dead in Colombo, Sri Lanka Health Services director general Anil Jasinghe said

At least six explosions have been reported. Three churches in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa were targeted during Easter services.

At least 400 people were injured and were undergoing treatment, an employee at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka said by phone.

Sri Lanka’s police chief made a nationwide alert 10 days before Sunday’s bomb attacks in the country that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches”, according to the warning seen by AFP.

Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara sent an intelligence warning to top officers on April 11 setting out the threat.

“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” said the alert.

The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that came to notice last year when it was linked to the vandalization of Buddhist statues.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the string of blasts that killed at least 137 people on Sunday as “cowardly” and said the government was working to “contain the situation.”

“I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today,” he said in a tweet from his verified account.

“I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”

“Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway,” Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said in a tweet on his verified account.

He said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St Anthony’s Shrine and described “horrible scenes.”

137 killed in Easter bombings of churches

At least 137 people were killed on Sunday when a string of bombs ripped through high-end hotels and churches as worshippers attended Easter services in Sri Lanka.

Forty five people were killed in Colombo, where three hotels and a church were hit, an official said.

Another 67 were killed in an attack on a church in Negombo north of the capital, with another 25 dead at a church in the town of Batticaloa, in the east of the country.

The nature of the blasts was not immediately clear and there were no immediate claims of responsibility.

President Maithripala Sirisena in an address said he was shocked by the explosions and appealed for calm.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe wrote on Twitter: “I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today.

“I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong. Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”

The first explosions were reported at St Anthony’s Shrine — a church in Colombo — and St Sebastian’s Church in the town of Negombo just outside the capital.

Dozens of people injured in the St Anthony’s blast flooded into the Colombo National Hospital by mid-morning, an official told AFP.

“A bomb attack to our church, please come and help if your family members are there,” read a post in English on the Facebook page of the St Sebastian’s Church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo.

Shortly after those blasts were reported, police confirmed three hotels in the capital had also been hit, along with a church in Batticaloa.

An official at one of the hotels, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo, told AFP that the blast had ripped through the hotel restaurant.

He said at least one person had been killed in the blast.

An official at the Batticaloa hospital told AFP more than 300 people had been admitted with injuries following the blast there.

“Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway,” Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said in a tweet on his verified account.

He said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St Anthony’s Shrine, and described “horrible scenes.”

“I saw many body parts strewn all over,” he tweeted, adding that there were “many casualties including foreigners.”

“Please stay calm and indoors,” he added.

Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost blown off in the blast.

The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood.

Several people could be seen covered in blood, with some trying to help those with more serious injuries.

The images could not immediately be verified.

Only around six percent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.

Masisi markets his country, Botswana

President Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana has embarked on campaign to market his country, saying the nation is investment destination of choice.

The Southern African country belongs to several regional bodies, said Masisi in Qatar during his just ended two-day state visit at the invitation of its ruler, Sheik Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Botswana’s strategic positioning at the heart of southern Africa and the fact that it remained a member in good standing to a number of regional bodies gave the country access to other markets such as Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and Southern African Development Community (SADC).

“Additionally Botswana had signed the COMESA EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area as well as African Continental Free Trade Area with a view to expand its market to more than 1.2 billion people in the continent of Africa,” he said.

He informed the Qatar Business Association that Botswana had entered into several market access agreements with various countries which gave the country duty free access and quota free market access such as European Union and the United States of America through African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

Furthermore, Dr Masisi said Botswana had gone a step further to cajole its neighbours to ensure that the opening of new markets in the continent and beyond was supported by the necessary infrastructure.

To this end, he said projects such as the Trans-Kalahari Railway between Botswana and Namibia as well as Kazungula bridge between Botswana and Zambia had been embarked upon.

The projects, Dr Masisi said, were primarily meant not to only facilitate movement of goods and services between the three SADC countries but the entire region.

President Masisi assured the Qatar entrepreneurs that despite having a small population of just over two million people, Botswana ha a lot to offer in terms of investment opportunities.

Source

No apologies over bombing of bandits- Yari

Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara has warned that there was no apology over bombing of bandits and urged the Nigerian Air Force to continue to flush out the hoodlums from their hideouts.

Yari alleged that some people were working against the state and warned that there was apology over alleged killing of innocent citizens during bombardment of suspected bandits’ camps in Dumburum village in Zurmi local government.

The governor made the statement on Saturday when a 7-man investigation team on the matter visited him at his Talata-Mafara private residence.

The state’s Council of Chiefs had a fortnight ago alleged that innocent citizens were recently bombarded through air strikes in the area by personnel of the Nigeria Air Force (NAF).

“As far as I am concerned and as the head of government in the state (Zamfara), l haven’t seen anything wrong done by the air force, l haven’t received any brief on such matter.

“Dumburum has been a criminal hideout for over three years and the Emir of Zurmi has once asked me to go and wipe out the area saying all those residing there were bandits, so l am surprised that the emir will be part of those saying innocent people were killed in an encounter in the area,” he said.

The governor alleged that “some people will stay in Abuja and fabricate things against the operations in Zamfara in order to distract the operation, this we must not allow’’.

“Please, all security agencies especially the air force should continue with your usual constitutional duties and the state government will give you all the support to facilitate your concentration in trying to bring back peace which has eluded the state since 2007.

“You should continue with fire power to show the criminals that there is a government in place and we won’t negotiate with them again because when we did that in the past, the leaders pretended as if all was well while they allowed their boys to continue to lay siege on the communities,” he said.

Handing over a letter of condolence to the governor from the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Sadique Abubakar, the team leader, AVM Idi Lubo said it was part of the chief’s concern in case the allegations were true.

He said, “the Chief of Air Staff has directed us to properly investigate the matter in order to unravel the truth.

“We have visited other stakeholders and discovered that there was a misinformation which we have now resolved and wish to assure the people of the state that we shall continue to discharge our assigned responsibilities in protecting the innocent with professionalism.”

The team which was conducted round the relevant stakeholders by the Commander of 207 Quick Response Group, Squadron Leader Sunkanmi Thomas thanked the support given to the Air Force operating in the state.

The team visited heads of security agencies, the traditional rulers and government officials among others while in the state.

In the course of the investigation, emirs in Zamfara recanted their allegations and apologized to the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) for misleading the nation on the fight against bandits.

The traditional rulers had, a fortnight ago, went specific that air strikes on suspected bandits camps hit at and killed innocent citizens in some parts of the state.

The outburst of the emirs, also prompted the Minister of Defence, Alhaji Mansur Dan Ali, to accuse some high ranking traditional rulers of conniving with the bandits.

In a turn-around, the Chairman, Zamfara State Council of Chiefs, Alhaji Attahiru Ahmad, tendered an apology to NAF for the allegations.

The Chairman Council of Chiefs, who is also the Emir of Anka, made the apology when a seven-man high powered investigation team led by AVM Idi Lubo visited him at his palace in Anka on Saturday.

The emirs spoke at a press briefing through the Emir of Bungudu, Alhaji Hassan Attahiru.

The Emir of Bungudu also followed up the claim with the release of the names of some persons who were killed in the air strikes.

The Emir of Anka, however, said “the council regrets the embarrassment caused by the press briefing because it was not targeted at the Air Force or the army but at our own son, the Minister of Defence, who wrongly accused us of complicity in the bandits activities in the state.

“l apologize over whatever embarrassment the statement may have caused and from now, we have drawn a line, there won’t be anything like that again, and I want to appeal that care should be applied while tracking the bandits and when they run from your fire power into the community, the land army should take over so as to avoid killing the innocent.

“Out of the 17 emirate councils that we have in the state, mistakes occurred in only four and the submissions we made were gathered in the last two years, l also want to state that nothing happened on innocent citizens in the last six months in the state,” he said.

While speaking on the list of killed persons that was later released by the Emir of Bungudu, the Chairman of the Council of Chiefs said: “The Emir of Bungudu is not the spokesman of the council even though he read our press briefing that day.

“The list of victims that he released to the press on a later day did not emanate from me nor was I aware of it as the Chairman, l will only take responsibility because l am the Chairman”.

He then assured that the traditional council would continue to support security agencies in the fight against armed banditry in the state and urged the army to go and occupy deserted villages where some of the bandits were hiding.

Lubo told the emirs that the team was in the state to investigate the true position of the allegations in order to avoid future occurrence.

“We have also come with condolence letter from the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Sadique Abubakar, in case some innocent people were killed in our encounter with bandits.”

NAN reports that the team was taken round stakeholders by the Commander of the 207 Quick Response Group in the state, Squadron Leader Sunkanmi Thomas. (NAN)

Police arrest four armed robbery, kidnap suspects in Edo

The Edo Command of the Nigerian Police says it has arrested four armed robbery and kidnap suspects in the state.

The Command’s Spokesman, DSP Chidi Nwabuzor, said in a statement that the suspects were arrested based on credible intelligence through the Department of State Services (DSS).

He said that the office of the IGP had alerted that the suspects were planning coordinated attacks against police formations in the state.

He said that based on this, Edo Commissioner of Police, CP Mohammed DanMallam, directed the tactical team of the command to go after the suspects.

He further said that a robust raiding, condoning and search was conducted within Auchi axis of the state which led to the arrest of the suspects on Friday.

He said some items recovered from the suspects included a vehicle, one Pump Action, two locally made guns, 20 live cartridges, charms, two face masks and a pair of police mobile force uniform.

He appealed to members of the public to be vigilant and always be at alert about suspicious movement and report same to the police.

Muhammadu Buhari University: Aisha Buhari to establish private University

Mrs Aisha Buhari, wife of the President, has expressed her plan to establish a private university to be known as “Muhammadu Buhari University”.

She disclosed this on Saturday during a townhall meeting in Yola organized by her in collaboration with concern indigenes of Adamawa.

Aisha, who did not however reveal when or where the university would be sited, explained that the university would be established in collaboration with partners from Sudan and Qatar.

Aisha who lamented the challenges facing education and various sectors in the state, called for active support of the state indigenes in complementing government efforts.

“I cannot conclude without suggesting how we can complement the efforts of government in achieving some of its developmental goals.

“On this note, I would like to advocate for the establishment of Adamawa Development Trust Fund through which prioritized developmental projects can be financed and implemented,” she said.

Amb. Fati Ballah also called for reconciliation and forgiveness among the people of the state and the setting up of a committee to come up with a blueprint for the development of the state.

Alhaji Sadiq Daware, who spoke on agriculture at the meeting, noted that 80 per cent of the state land was arable and suitable for farming.

Daware added that with River Benue which passes through the state, the state has the potential for massive irrigation and all year round farming programmes.

Other speakers at the meeting include Prof. Shehu Iya of Modibbo Adama University, Yola, who spoke on education; Prof. Auwal Abubakar of Federal Medical Centre, Yola, who spoke on health; and Mrs Helen Mathias who spoke on women and youths.

Othersvare Mallam Umar Abubakar who spoke on security; Gen. Buba Marwa on drugs; Sen. Silas Zwingina on Good Governance, and Dr Umar Bindir who spoke on Poverty.

The meeting was also attended by politicians, particularly APC, PDP and ADC members in the state.

Suspected hoodlums allegedly killed a 65-year-old Chief Imam of Kwara Village,

Suspected hoodlums on Saturday, allegedly killed a 65-year-old Chief Imam of Kwara Village, Kiyawa Local Government Area of Jigawa, the Police have confirmed.

SP Abdu Jinjiri, the Spokesman, Jigawa Police Command in Dutse said, that the incident occurred at about 1:30 a.m.

Jinjiri said the deceased cleric, Alsheik Idris Musa, a resident of Kwara, was attacked by hoodlums at his residence after he sold his farmland for N400, 000 to one of the construction companies in the state.

He explained that the suspects allegedly hit the deceased several times with sticks, which led to his death.

The spokesman added that the suspects allegedly took away the sum of N400, 000 belonging to the deceased.

According to him, the suspects also beat up the wives and children of the deceased.

“The deceased was said to have sold his farmland to one of the construction companies in the state at the cost of N400, 000,

“It is suspected that the transaction took place in the presence of the suspected, but unidentified hoodlums who later trailed him to his residence.

“The village where the incident took place is a remote area. The distance to our station is two hours’ drive.

“So the DPO in charge of the area got the information at about 1:30 a.m. and proceeded to the scene immediately, but he got there after 3 a.m.

“When he got there, the victim was already dead, but he was able to rescue the family members beaten by the hoodlums.

“They were taken to hospital for medical attention,” the spokesman said.

Jinjiri said remains of the deceased had been released to his family for burial.

He added that the police had commenced investigations into the matter, and efforts were being intensified to arrest the fleeing suspects.

Suspected motorcycle snatchers had also on Friday, in Dutse, allegedly killed a 33-year-old motorcyclist and made away with his motorcycle.

Suspected armed robbers in the early hours of Thursday shot dead one person and injured several others in Garin Maidawa Village, Dutse Local Government Area of the state.

CCB urges out-going political office holders to declare assets

The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) in Kano State has reminded all outgoing elected and appointed political office holders to declare their assets at the end of their tenure.

This is contained in a statement signed by the CCB state Director, Umar Saulawa in Kano on Saturday.

He said there was need for the affected political office holders to declare their assets in line with the provision of the 1999 constitution as amended.

“We want to remind all the outgoing elected and appointed political office holders in the state to come forward to the Bureau’s office to collect their assets declaration form,” he said.

He said failure to comply with the directive amounts to the breach of the law and attracts necessary sanctions against defaulting public officers.

Explosions, gunfire shatter Kabul peace

The attack near the communications ministry occurred one day after planned talks between the Taliban and Afghan representatives were cancelled.

No one claimed immediate responsibility for the assault, which left people stranded in the tall building. Six people were injured, according to a health ministry spokesman.

Initial reports were confused, with officials from different agencies saying three or four attackers were involved. It was not clear how many were suicide bombers and how many were gunmen involved in a follow-up assault.

AFP journalists heard one big blast at around 11:40 am (0710 GMT), followed by sporadic gunfire for more than an hour afterward.

“The information that we have is four attackers have placed themselves near the communication ministry and are engaged in gun battles with the Afghan security forces,” Amanduddin Shariati, a security official in Kabul told AFP.

On Twitter, the Ministry of Information said three suicide bombers had attacked a post office building at the communications ministry.

General Sayed Mohammad Roshan Dil, the Kabul police chief, said four attackers had been wearing police uniforms and had targeted a shrine near the ministry. One of the attackers was killed, he told Tolo.

Local television footage showed a small plume of smoke near the ministry, and people climbing out windows on a lower level.

On Facebook, a man named Syed Jaillani Jallan said he was trapped inside the ministry.

“Please pray for us as the enemy has reached very close to us. Suicide attack on communication ministry,” he wrote. AFP could not immediately verify the comment.

– Spring offensive –

The communication ministry is located in downtown Kabul, about two kilometres (1.25 miles) from the green zone, a heavily fortified foreign compound. It is the city’s main commercial area and is home to a large hotel.

The ministry itself is an 18-storey building, thought to be the tallest in Kabul.

The explosion comes a week after the Taliban announced their annual spring offensive and amid ongoing fighting across Afghanistan.

The Afghan branch of the Islamic State group has also previously carried out multiple deadly attacks in Kabul.

Aside from a grenade attack on a military vehicle last week, the capital has in recent weeks enjoyed a period of relative calm, after a horrific year last year that saw a string of attacks including a massive bomb that was concealed in an ambulance and killed more than 100 people.

This week in the Qatari capital Doha, a summit planned between the Taliban and officials from across Afghanistan was scrapped at the last minute due to bickering over who should attend the conference.

The collapse comes at a critical time and amid continued bloodshed in Afghanistan, where the Taliban now control or influence about half of Afghanistan and 3,804 civilians were killed there last year, according to a UN tally.

Taliban officials are separately negotiating with the United States, which wants to forge a peace deal with the militants

Buhari: Looking back, looking forward

To borrow the words of colourful First Republic politician, Chief Ozumba Mbadiwe, “come has finally come to become” for President Muhammadu Buhari, as he has won election to serve a second term in office, after a pulsating contest. The country, nay, Africa, and the world look forward to the inauguration on May 29, 2019.

What will be the priorities of the Buhari administration in second term in office? Before we look forward, let’s first look back, as the future is often embedded in the past. The key to unlocking the future is usually in the palm of the past.

What did President Buhari do in the first four years? What did he promise, and what did he achieve?

In 2015, the President pledged to secure the country, revive the economy, and fight corruption. These were the three focal points, the fundamentals on which the administration was pedestaled. And what is the report card?

When the government took the reins of power in May 2015, the security of the country was in tatters. Insurgents ran riot, and bombs went off like firecrackers in many parts of the country. North-west, North-east, North-central, including the Federal Capital Territory, were beleaguered. The insurgents were on their way to the southern part, and the whole country would have become history.

But the tested retired Army General took the war to Boko Haram. Stressing that you can’t efficiently manage a country until you have secured it, he relocated the command centre of the war to Maiduguri, which is the epicentre of the insurgency. Steadily and progressively, the insurgents were beaten back, till they got circumscribed in Sambisa Forest. Even that was taken away from them, till they became like sheep without shepherd, mingling with the civilian population to attack soft targets. Today, the insurgency is terribly degraded.

Though not totally conquered, it is only a matter of time. The situation today can in no way be compared to what we had in 2015. President Buhari is winning the security war.

Other theatres of insecurity like kidnapping, armed robbery, attacks by violent herdsmen on farmers, and other civil strifes, are also being addressed. Eventually, calm will suffuse the entire country.

The economy was comatose in 2015, and it was no surprise that it went into recession the following year. Throw up the hands in resignation and bemoan the tough luck that saw oil prices plunging from above 100 dollars per barrel to below 30 dollars? Not the Buhari administration. It rolled its sleeves, and set to work. Massive investments were made in agriculture and infrastructure, so as to jumpstart the economy. And truly, it roared to life, and recession lasted for only a year. The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) was enunciated, launched and vigorously executed, and by the fourth quarter of 2018, things were looking positive. Inflation had dropped for more than eleven consecutive months, and the impact was beginning to be felt in the prices of commodities. Importation of rice and other grains had almost stopped completely, and millions of dollars were being saved daily.
On corruption, there was a new reality in the country. There was a time we’d been told that stealing was not corruption. But behold a new dawn. Every form of stealing was being punished, and all malefactors, both high and low, were being hurled before the courts, and thrown into jail.

What shall we say of massive infrastructure works round the country? Roads, bridges, rail, power, and many others. Nigeria had never seen it in that fashion.

Looking forward

Now, to look forward. What will the Buhari administration do in its second term? Many things, in fact, a basket of goodies. It is a term of consolidation, a term of legacy building, as encapsulated in the Next Level road map. Progress and prosperity for Nigerians at many levels.

The three fundamental areas will continue-security, economic revival, and fighting corruption-but there will be some other definite deliverables. What are they?

Education will be refocussed, with the curriculum tweaked to place more emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths. These will surely launch Nigeria into a new realm, positioning her with the developed world in the not too distant future.

Health care will come under focus, with the intention of building a healthy populace, who can hold their own in different areas of endeavour.

Infrastructure development will continue. Roads, rail, bridges, housing, and many others. The country will become one giant construction site, and this will further unlock economic development, and improve the quality of life.

Government will be inclusive. The boundless talents of Nigerians will be harnessed for national development. More women and youths would be brought on board.

Poverty reduction will be a deliberate policy. The Social Investment Program, already described as the largest and most successful in Africa, will be strengthened with the introduction of Monibank for traders and artisans, while an Entrepreneurs Bank would also be established to take care of small and medium scale enterprises. Home Grown School Feeding Programme, catering for the needs of about ten million pupils now, will be given a fillip, engagement of unemployed graduates, and conditional cash transfer to the poorest of the poor, would also continue. Millions of Nigerians would be taken out of grinding poverty in the next four years, no doubt.

Power. Billions of dollars had been expended on this in the past decades, but where is the power, as the President would ask. Emphasis would be on power generation and distribution as to make a difference in the next four years.

Agriculture would continue to have pride of place in terms of funding. Lip service had been paid to diversifying the Nigerian economy for decades, but now, it is reality. Food security will be achieved in the second term. About eight million jobs were generated from the sector in the first term, many more millions are sure to come.

Anti-corruption? No joke. People with itchy fingers, past and present, will continue to fall in trouble, and probity and accountability will remain the order of the day. Honesty remains the best policy.

All these, and more are what Nigerians can look forward to in the legacy epoch, which is the second term of the Buhari administration. And by the time the term ends, the country would never be the same again. The joy kiln will be kindled in the hearts of the people, and they will leap for joy. These are promises you can take to the bank.

.Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity